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Posted by Richard Saturday, February 02, 2008 ,

Thank you Tim for your intervention on this. And "this" is Simon Heffer in full "man-in-pub" mode, ranting about MPs not needing "research assistants". The problem, opines the great man, "stems from MPs' belief that they deserve an entourage."

He would concede an MP needs a secretary, but why do they need research assistants? MPs never used to have them, he says. They just had their secretaries get information from the House of Commons Library. If MPs need advisers, let their parties pay for them. Taxpayers are put upon enough without having to fund such swindles.

I have already declared an interest on this, and our readers will not be at all surprised at our view that Heffer – as he so often does – is talking utter tosh. The real problem is that he needs a "research assistant", as he so quaintly puts it. Myself, I prefer the term, "researcher".

That much is evident from his equally facile comments on Dan Hannan, where he tells us to, "Forget Hitler, the EU is modelled on the USSR". Daniel Hannan, he says, made only one mistake when he drew comparisons in the European Parliament between the way the European Union does business and how the Nazis were enabled to set up a dictatorship in Germany 75 years ago. He could just as easily have compared it with the way business was transacted in Stalin's Russia, and he should have.

This really is classic "man-in-pub" talk. One brief look at the Soviet Constitution should disabuse anyone of the thesis that there is any similarity between Stalin's regime and the European Union, but such niceties are not for the likes of Heffer.

In fact, Heffer is the classic research-free "journalist". Between prejudice and finger, no brain intervenes, no pause to collect information in a systematic way, no attempt to evaluate it and analyse it. Instead, he writes off-the-cuff, sometimes getting it right, but most often not.

Yet this is the man who rants about the Tories and their lack of policy, a man who clearly cannot join the dots. How does he think a policy is actually formulated? Does he think that Cameron sends his secretary down to the House of Commons Library and asks for one?

The big problem, in fact, is that the Conservative Party does not do enough research and much of that which is done is of such poor quality. That, more often, is due to the low status afforded to the occupation of researcher, the inability to understand the role and value of research, and thus the traditionally low pay in the calling, building a self-reinforcing cycle.

But, against the might of the government with all the might of the civil service and the enormous resources available to it, how does Heffer think that MPs can operate in the task he would have them do - holding the government to account?

The worst of it, though, is that – judging from the comments on his online piece – so many people agree with this rather silly man. The seductive rant of the man-in-pub has a strong following. But this does not make him right.